The deadly crash of a private airplane on an Atlanta interstate last year that killed four people and a dog was caused by debris that choked the fuel manifold in the airplane’s engine, resulting in a loss of power, federal investigators said Tuesday.
“Post-accident testing of the fuel manifold showed that it was not operating normally and was contaminated with debris,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states in its final report of the May 8, 2015, crash that killed pilot Greg Byrd, his sons Christopher and Phillip, Christopher’s fiancée, Jackie Kulzer, and their dog.
“The composition of debris and its origin could not be determined, but it was likely that the debris moved within the fuel manifold during operation and resulted in fluctuating power indications.”
Mr. Byrd, a former police officer in Asheville, N.C., told air traffic control the Piper 32R-300, also known as a Piper Lance, was having trouble gaining altitude. He then reported that the airplane was going down.
The airplane took off from DeKalb-Peachtree Airport and went just two miles before it crashed into a median wall on I-285. Although there was normal traffic on the interstate at the time, nobody on the ground was injured.
“I don’t believe that it was the pilot’s fault,” NTSB lead investigator Eric Alleyne told Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News. “I think he did a good job trying to maneuver the airplane the way he did. It’s just unfortunate that it ended up in an accident and lives were lost.”
Witnesses told the NTSB that the airplane’s engine sounded like it was at “wide open throttle” yet the aircraft was flying low in the moments before it crashed and exploded.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr. Byrd had barely cleared a thicket of trees at the end of the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport runway. He texted his mechanic the following day. While “the run-up was good … he wasn’t getting full rpm at full power while static,” NTSB investigator discovered. Shortly afterward, he texted his mechanic that “everything was normal.”